Kate and Jamie Bains are stranded at Fort Walsh in the Cyprus Hills when Ambush in the Foothills opens. The year is 1877 and to earn a little money to get home, they agree to help their friend Patrick McNeil to drive a herd of cattle from Montana to the foothills country in Canada.
The cattle drive takes them through wild and dangerous country. The cowboys are rough and independent men, the Blackfoot Nation controls the territory they must cross, and outlaws lurk in the foothills waiting for an opportunity to strike. If Kate and Jamie hope to make it back alive only strength of character and raw courage will help them.
Ambush in the Foothills is the ninth book in the best selling Bains Series of historical novels for young readers 10 to 14, written by Bill Freeman. The book is illustrated with 19th century photos that describes the life of the cowboys and the Blackfoot people. The Bains series has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work.
ISBN: 1-55028-717-6 Cloth, 1-55028-716-8 Paper
Ambush in the Foothills is available from Chapters Indigo online for $13.56.
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Excerpt from Chapters 7 and 8 of Ambush in the Foothills
Things did not seem to settle that night. The herd quieted, and the cowboys were able to get some sleep, but the next day the sun was fierce. The flies were worse than ever, driving humans and animals to distraction. There was more than one breakout as the cattle tried to get away from their tormentors. Over and over again men and horses were put to the text. Exhaustion was setting in from hours in the saddle and lack of sleep.
That night, as Jamie and Josh took their watch, a nervous restlessness had taken possession of the herd. The cattle were on their feet milling about and would not settle. The moon drifted in a sky filled with clouds making it hard to see details on the ghostly pale prairie. A strong west wind stirred the grass restlessly.
Jamie watched and listened. He was riding his stallion again. He had pushed the horse too hard in the last few days, but he wanted to be aboard his best mount on this unsettled night. For an hour they rode their watch, but still the herd had not settled.
The boy was on the far side from the camp when he though he saw something in the distance. Then there was a noise. Jamie turned. He was sure that he saw a man waving a blanket to frighten the herd. Instantly the nervous cattle were on the move. It was a breakout! A stampede!
Jamie let out the cry, “Stampede! Stampede!”
The cattle were terrified, their eyes bugging from their heads, and yet the herd was strangely soundless. There were no bellows, no frightened, frantic moos. Not a beast uttered a sound except for the thunder of their hooves, but that alone was enough to spread panic. The ground gave a deep rumbling, a trembling, that felt like an earthquake about to shake the very foundations of the world.
In the camp, where the cowboys were sleeping, Patrick listened. Suddenly he was on his feet. “Stampede!” he shrieked. “Stampede! All hands into the saddle! Stampede!”
The cowboys were out of their bedrolls racing for their night horses that they had staked close by. Kate had sensed that there might be trouble. She had left her saddle on her buffalo pony and had staked it near her. It took only a moment for her to run for her mound and leap into the saddle.
The cattle were in full stampede back along the trail they had come. They ran with surprising speed, hooves pounding on the hard earth, horns clashing as they thundered on. The herd raced blindly, running as hard as they could to get away from whatever it was that had given fright in the first place. There was no thought, no reason, only the blinding chaos of the wild herd in full flight.
Jamie raked the sides of his stallion with his heels. He knew that he had to get out in front of the herd and turn them in order to stop their panicked, thundering flight. The stampede was well out in front of him. This was not time to think of the man with the blanket, no time to worry about himself. He had to stop the stampede. This was his watch. His responsibility.
The boy kicked the sides of his stallion again. There were raging cattle on all sides of him. If his horse stumbled Jamie knew he would be trampled to death by the animal’s sharp hooves within seconds. But he would not stop. He had to trust his horse.
The darkness was all about, but the moon came out from behind the clouds enough to show the racing, frightened herd running with every ounce of strength in their powerful bodies. As he raced with the cattle he felt heat rise off them, hot enough to blister his face. But still they galloped on. Horses, steers, cows and calves raced in a frantic wild run that left any thought of safety behind, but he was gaining on the herd. Even with all the panic of the cattle, Jamie’s stallion was faster.
Kate was well back of the herd. As first her buffalo pony was frightened and ran outside the stampeding herd. Her horse could see the flashing horns of the cattle and shied away from them. She spurred her mount, and it began to run at the pace of the herd. She saw other cowboys. Some stayed well back, frightened of being caught in the thundering herd, but others rode hard for the leaders in an attempt to stop the stampede.
Jamie could not think about what was going on behind him. He knew the stallion was his only hope to get out in front of the cattle. He gave his horse its head and crouched low over its neck so that horse and rider were one streamlined racing unit. The stallion ran as if he knew that both their lives depended on getting out in front of the herd. One mile, two miles, maybe three, they ran. The boy and his horse would not give up on this desperate chase, and the herd showed no signs of slowing.
But they were winning this reckless race. Jamie could see the leaders of the stampeding herd now. He was almost out in front. Then he noticed Josh not far behind him. They were both racing hard for the front of the herd.
Finally the boy and his horse were abreast of the panicked steers who where leading this wild stampede. This was the most dangerous moment. Jamie had to turn the leaders so that the whole herd would follow and run in a circle. He eased his horse over. The stallion gave a bump to the steer running in the lead. The steer began to move to the right. The animal turned and other cattle coming behind followed.
Jamie could see Josh a few strides behind. Both of them were forcing the cattle to move in a big arc. It was working. In the pale moonlight Jamie could see how the still stampeding herd was circling. It took terrifying minutes of reckless hard riding, but finally the leaders of the herd had circled around, meeting others that were in the tail of the stampede.
There was confusing. The leaders merged with those that were coming behind. Animals bumped into each other, stopped running, and began milling about. In a moment the hard racing herd was no more than a confusing mass of mooing, braying cattle. The stampede was over. Jamie and his stallion found themselves in the middle of this mass of dazed and bewildered cattle. He took off his hat to wipe his brow and feel the cool night air. Finally he could feel the tension from this wild race ease away.
The black stallion was lathered in sweat, breathing heavily, its body trembling. Jamie leaned over and stroked the silky back neck of his mount. “You’re the best,” he whispered into the stallion’s ear. “You stopped the stampede.
“You’re some cowboy.” Josh was smiling beside him. The cattle milled about them.
“It was my black stallion that did it.”
“A horse is important, but it’s the man in the saddle that makes the difference.”
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